Red Foxes Here,
There, But Not Everywhere
By Don Davis
May 8, 2014
(See many Photos at www.tripper.smugmug.com)
Seeing two red fox dens in less than one week , one very close-up, highlighted our recent tours of familiar back roads near Walla Walla.
Our includes Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and me.
The week began when Darlene wanted to visit Palouse Falls, 55 miles north and beyond Lyons Ferry.
I wrestled with a tripod at the falls, instead of my usual hand-held approach, and came away with many images of the falls that plunge dramatically across a ragged, 195-foot-high cliff.
And the sunbathing marmots posed as Nora glared from a few feet away behind the sturdy wire fence.
Finally, we headed back toward Walla Walla via the long way that included Dayton and Waitsburg (I sought gas at Waitsburg at a relatively cheap $3.78 per).
Then, on Highway 12, a mile before the airport exit at Walla Walla, Darlene yipped, “A fox. We just passed it.”
I turned around and eased back as another car, which had turned when going the other direction, crept toward us.
A pair of red fox kits, seemingly unconcerned, stood at their den’s entrance and observed the vehicles racing past.
I drifted to the road’s edge, half in the barrow pit and a foot from traffic passing in the right lane.
The other creeping car stopped, and a young man stepped out with a cell phone to snap photos.
I lowered my window, and steadied the big lens on the door.
Nora stood on my thigh, front feet on the door and watched the foxes . She huffed softly once.
I recorded rapid images, completely ignored by the foxes less than 20 feet away. Then nervous about the dim light, I checked the camera’s histogram. The images looked okay.
The young man walked along the roadside to within 20 feet or so of the unconcerned foxes.
Individual and pods of vehicles passed us at 40-to-60 mph without slowing. They included wind-thumping, roaring semis.
Eventually, the young man waved, made a three-point turn and zipped off to the northeast.
I took 300 photos, easy, of the young foxes that sometimes wandered from their den‘s dusty porch down into the grassy barrow pit .
“They could get run over,” Darlene said.
As much as we enjoyed watching them and knowing they were there, we left feeling a lingering discomfort at their precarious situation.
A day or so later, we drove west, all the way to the McNary Dam and nature area.
En route we watched several young white goats cavorting around their guardian Llamas on Detour Road (as I recall).
We also stopped for a Northern Harrier that posed on a power poll.
Darlene said that the fearless Llamas protect the goats and sheep from predators such as coyotes and rogue dogs.
She didn't guess how Llamas would fare against wolves.
We eventually paused at Hat Rock where a lone American White Pelican plied the pond with full sails back-lit by the sun.
Two days or so later, on a drive along Patit Creek Road and down cautionary-for-passenger-cars Hartsock Grade, about 200 deer grazed in emerald-green fields and one very young spotted cougar meandered along a fallow field's edge.
And along the Tucannon River Road near Marengo, more marmots enjoyed the warm sunshine.
We rumbled south and westward at 5-mph up steep Marengo Grade and through the narrow, prematurely darkened canyon where ghostly mule deer scattered from the gravel road, over a fence and up the canyon side.
A day later, Pat Hermann called to tell us about seeing young coyotes, or perhaps foxes because they had white tips on their tails, from the freeway west of College Place.
I agreed they probably were red foxes.
He saw them early in the morning , just east of where Sudbury Road crosses Highway 12.
After a failed afternoon trip west to Wallula Junction to scout for side-blotched lizards, we scanned the roadside for the foxes.
And, by golly, there they were: an adult and two kits. A bright, late afternoon sunlight washed over them as they meandered around their den.
Again, we parked close to the edge of the road with blasts from heavy traffic buffeting the pickup.
This time about 60-to-80 yards separated us from the foxes, off to our right.
I briefly pondered stepping out and leaning the camera on the hood or the tonneau. I gave that up because of the traffic and the desire not to spook the foxes with an open door or a human on foot.
Darlene rolled her window down, and Nora stood on her lap with her front feet on the door.
Then, competing for space and straining for steadiness, I leaned across with the big lens and snapped away.
We felt better about the fate of those foxes as we drove away. They had a greater safety margin in that field, but they were in full view of the passing parade.
(See Many Photos at www.tripper.smugmug.com)